What is the difference between plain text, image-only, and HTML email signatures?

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Understanding the structure of an email signature can be an arduous challenge as there is a lot of disconnected information, different personal, professional, or corporate uses – and the list goes on. This nuance may go unnoticed by many professionals, but there are three main ways to format an email signature:

  • Plain text email signature;
  • Image-only signature;
  • HTML-formatted email signature.

For a professional – whether working in the IT department, HR, or marketing team – which is about to implement uniform email communication for all employees, understanding the difference between the three basic options can save the day and help your chances of success.

In the following guide, we will provide an overview of these three most common forms of email signatures. We will also provide tips to increase your chances of success in creating, managing, and deploying them.

1. Email signature in plain text

Plain text is the most straightforward and traditional way to format an email signature. It is composed by simply typing the relevant data that make up the signature (name, job title, company, phone number).

There are advantages to using this type of signature, such as fast screen loading (thinking especially in the case of cell phones). Linked to this advantage, there is also the fact that, even today, many users set up their web browsers to not load images.

Thus, the plain text signature guarantees that all the relevant data it contains will be seen by the message recipients.

Plain text email signature

The main disadvantage of the plain text signature is that its simple format tends to go unnoticed, or even draw attention in a negative sense, through the use of a less elaborate design.

2. Image-only email signature

Adding images to one’s email signature – such as a logo and social media icons, for example – undoubtedly makes it more attractive, helping it to become an important piece of the company’s or individual professional’s marketing strategy.

However, if you use an image-only signature as a single component, there are disadvantages. The first of these, already mentioned above, is that many users – whether because of issues with slow page loading time or simply personal preference – opt to set up their browsers to not load images, so it may not be an appropriate type of signature.

Another negative point occurs when the client blocks the display of the image from unknown senders. In this instance, the image is completely removed from the message, preventing the client from recognizing that the block is an email signature.

Without email

Furthermore, the images contained in the signatures are very limited in terms of linking, preventing better interaction with the recipient.

3. Signatures with HTML formatting

The main disadvantage of HTML-formatted signatures is that they are more labor-intensive to put together. On the other hand, they can be very visually appealing and, better yet, present several options for interaction.

Here is an example of a complete HTML-formatted email signature. The address text can direct the click to open Google Maps, the company logo can have a link that directs the click to the company website, and the phone number can contain a link to start a WhatsApp call.

Furthermore, an example of possible interaction from the signature is in the links to social media. Far beyond just informing what a person’s social media are, logos and links linked to an HTML signature act as a call to interaction.

What is an HTML email signature?

The HTML email signature can be understood as an evolution of text or image-only signatures.

Because it is disseminated to especially important audiences, such as customers, suppliers, and partners, the email signature ends up transmitting a certain image of a company or a professional.

HTML formatting brought a series of resources and possibilities that could be added to the email signature, not only to enrich it aesthetically but more importantly to turn it into an effective element of marketing strategy.

Video preview of HTML email signature editor.

In other words, the unintentional marketing previously gained from signatures can now give way to a previously planned campaign.

Below, we describe some of the main advantages offered by HTML email signatures.

Better readability

Image signatures, when saved with good quality, tend to suffer compression to facilitate their loading time, reaching the recipient with a loss of readability. In HTML signatures, written content is treated as text, always remaining legible.

Responsive formatting

Responsive formatting is becoming mandatory as there is a huge growth in access to content via devices such as tablets and smartphones, each with its own particular screen size.

HTML signatures can be much better adapted to these different output formats while preserving readability and interactivity features.

Easy to maintain

HTML signatures can be easily edited, requiring no specific or sophisticated software.

By contrast, in image signatures, a need for alteration or adaptation can be more labor-intensive, requiring the use of specific graphics software. Attempts to edit with the use of “alternative” tools may not produce the desired effects.

In HTML, a signature can be composed of different elements, and each of them can be associated with a different behavior through the addition of links. Each link can work as a true “call to action”, directing the receiver of the message according to the desired approach.

A good example of this interactivity is the placement of links to the different social media accounts of the company or professional, creating shortcuts for the recipient of the email to be able to get in contact directly via the channel he or she considers the most convenient.

Defense against anti-spam filters

Due to the proportion of the number of images and the amount of text, a message with an image signature can be classified as spam. Naturally, the balance between elements in an HTML signature is better “understood” by anti-spam filters.

Read also: Best Practices For Business Email Signatures.

What is an email signature manager?

An email signature manager is a tool that allows a company to create and maintain a standard email signature for all its employees, efficiently solving some problems that are typical in companies that try to do this standardization manually.

With this feature, a manager can take care of both the general aspects that are common to all signatures and the individual details of each employee’s signature.

Common issues with manual signature management

Within a company, it is normal for employees to be instructed to adopt a certain signature pattern for their emails. By defining this standard, the company tries to project a positive image of itself, especially to the external public.

But in many cases, the adoption of this standard is done manually. That is, each employee takes it upon themselves to adapt their own email signature to the defined standard.

This procedure can lead to several drawbacks, such as:

  • The hassle caused to employees – not only when creating the signature, but whenever any data needs to be updated (change of phone number, position, department, etc.), the employee needs to dedicate some time for this task;
  • The use of signatures with outdated data – either through inattention or by not taking the time to update them, employees end up maintaining signatures with incorrect data;
  • The tendency to lose standardization – with individual updating of signatures, it is natural that formatting outside the established standard may begin to appear;
  • The difficulty of control – for the company, it is unfeasible to periodically check, employee by employee, if each signature is within the standard and with updated data.

The end result is that the attempt to standardize ends up having the opposite effect: instead of a single, well-defined identity, the external public perceives diffuse and inaccurate information.

Email signature manager or builder?

With a more simplified structure, builders mainly have some features for editing and formatting individual signatures. Managers, on the other hand, have additional features for automated management of sets of signatures.

The fact that managers are more complete does not mean that they are always a better option than builders.

For medium and large companies with many employees, the manager is, of course, the most suitable solution. But for individual use or even for small companies, a simple builder can fully meet your needs.


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